As luck would have it, the 2019 election in Virginia for the House of Delegates and the state Senate has provided Republican candidates the opportunity to take advantage of their opposition to abortion.
Democrats have expanded their efforts to eliminate restrictions on abortion. Gov. Ralph Northam and Del. Kathy Chen, for example, have endorsed abortions up to the moment of birth—or perhaps even afterwards.
As every poll on abortion shows, these are unpopular positions. Abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy are widely seen as extreme. Yet Democrats have allowed this powerful—and often emotional—issue to be used against them in the November 5 election. And they appear to be unconcerned about any political consequences.
The fallout, sadly, may be minimal. In the legislature, Republicans have an impressive record of enacting restrictions on “abortion rights.” But in the campaign, most GOP candidates have taken a pass, acting as if they fear a backlash from attacking even late-term abortions.
There’s one vigorous exception: Nicholas Bell, running in Fairfax County’s Annandale and Springfield communities in northern Virginia. He’s an important exception for three reasons. One, he’s a compelling and knowledgeable opponent of abortion. Two, his Democratic opponent is Vivian Watts, 79, who has been the leading pro-abortion extremist in the Virginia legislature for two decades.
Third, although it’s Bell’s first bid for elective office, he quickly emerged as a likeable candidate and effective campaigner. And he’s media savvy. Bell has appeared repeatedly on talk radio and enlisted prominent national Republicans to do taped calls to voters. They include Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.
“I think everyone can agree,” Rubio said in his endorsement call, “that killing a baby that’s eight months, nine months, or in the womb, a fully formed person, or even after birth—that’s just totally wrong. We need representatives who defend babies who are born or about to be born.”
Bell has also raised more money than Watts or any of her earlier opponents—enough for him to pay for mass mailings in the district. He doesn’t mince about Watts. She “thinks someone who kills a pregnant woman and her child should only be charged with one crime, not two [and} and that forcing a woman to have an abortion is NOT a crime,” he says in a mailing focused on abortion.
Science, Bell writes, “makes it clearer and clearer that babies in the womb are human persons.” Meanwhile, the abortion industry is demanding “that politicians take the crazy stances they take…that is why my opponent opposes prohibiting ‘deliberate acts’ to kill aborted babies, that is why my opponent thinks aborted babies should not get anesthesia, that late term abortions should be allowed for any reason, that abortion should be paid for by the taxpayers.”
Bell, 32, a graduate of the College of William and Mary, comes from a conservative background. His father, the late Jeffrey Bell, was a political strategist for Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. He was the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1978 in New Jersey, losing to Democrat Bill Bradley, the ex-basketball star. In 2014, Nick Bell worked on his father’s unsuccessful campaign to replace New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker in New Jersey.
After working as a Senate aide and in the Labor Department, Nick Bell decided to run against Watt. He’s the first real threat to reelection she’s faced. Her earlier opponents were political neophytes with underfunded campaigns. They were part-time candidates. Bell left government last year and began campaigning full-time.
Watching videos of Northam and Tran in which they discussed efforts to end restrictions on abortion prompted him to run, Bell told me. Both suggested the proposed law they supported “allowed for infanticide after the baby was delivered,” according to the Washington Times.
“I think the Democrats have gone so far extreme that we have got to fight back,” he said in an interview with the Washington Times. ”If you aren’t going to defend to life for babies after birth, how are you going to defend other rights? The right to life is the most fundamental.”
Bell says he learned to “think outside the box” in creating a campaign strategy. By elevating the abortion issue, he’s taken a surprising tack. Virginia has never been known as a strong anti-abortion state. Only in recent years have Republican succeeded in enacting significant pro-life measures.
He has refused to take corporate contributions, although most Republican and Democratic candidates do. This allows him to criticize Watts for her longtime habit of accepting such contributions. And Bell opposes payday loans, a practice Republicans rarely attack. His campaign slogan is “The People’s Interests, Not the Special Interests.”
In other words, Bell’s campaign does not resemble a standard Republican one—quite the contrary. He would do away with highway tolls, which are increasingly being imposed in Virginia. Tolls have become a populist issue, not a partisan one.
For all his progress as a candidate, Bell is still an underdog against Watt. Given her years as a delegate, she has probably gained as much name recognition as a state delegate can. She has done practically nothing, such as meet Bell in a public debate, to make Bell’s candidacy known to voters before they see his name on the ballot next Tuesday.
That is not likely to be the last time voters learn of a Bell candidacy. Having shown himself to be an attractive candidate, he’s laid the groundwork for future campaigns. Republican leaders are bound to have noticed.
Fred Barnes is a senior columnist for the Washington Examiner.